Venezuelan Exiles Throw Arepa in Chavez's Eye with Spinning Simon Bolivar Statue in Doral

Venezuelan exiles announced today that they are installing a statue of their country's founding father, Simon Bolivar, in front of the Arepazo restaurant in Doral.

The life-size, revolvable statue is intended as an arepa in the eye of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, whose socialist "Bolivarian Revolution" leans heavily on the figure of El Libertador.

"We want to show that Bolivar doesn't belong to Chavez," says Vicente Pugliese, vice president of Venezolanos Perseguidos Politicos en el Exilio (Veppex).

At a small press conference in El Arepazo, Veppex president and former Venezuelan lieutenant Jose Antonio Colina said the statue would be installed within 50 days.

"This will be a piece of Venezuela here in Miami... and a recognition of all the Venezuelans who have already left the country for political reasons and arrived here," Colina said.

The lot housing the restaurant, a Citgo gas station, and a car-wash will be rechristened "Plaza Bolivar." A smaller bust of Bolivar will also be given to Ronald Reagan High School in Doral.

A statue of Bolivar already exists in the Bayside Marketplace downtown, but Colina said it lacked the political significance of the new sculpture since it was constructed 25 years ago: long before Chavez's 1998 election and redistributionist policies provoked an exodus of mostly middle- and upper-class Venezuelans.

Like the recent tug-of-war over Carlos Andres Perez's body, the Bolivar sculpture signifies nothing so much as the severe split within Venezuelans over their current government.

The new statue will sit -- or spin -- in the median of NW 58th Street near 102nd Avenue, like a giant middle finger aimed at wherever Chavez might be at that moment. It is being manufactured in Spain and costs roughly $12,000.

Pugliese said the statue was meant to celebrate Bolivar -- considered the founder of Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Panama in addition to Venezuela -- and reclaim his image from Chavez. The Venezuelan president -- currently weakened by cancer and undergoing chemotherapy in Cuba -- faces what promises to be his most contested election ever next year.

"The image of Simon Bolivar has been trampled" by Chavez, said Venezuelan exile and journalist Patricia Poleo at the press conference.

"Bolivar isn't some idiot of the Left," Pugliese insisted, "but a millionaire who gave up his riches to fight for independence."

No doubt that Chavez -- who last year wept when exhuming Bolivar's body -- and his supporters would dispute that characterization of El Libertador, who they see as a hero of the poor.

One way or another, El Libertador is turning over in his freshly re-dug grave.

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